It was a welcoming sight for everyone to see No. 13 step on the ice Thursday night.
“It was great to have him on board again, just to have him in games,” Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg said of Pavel Datsyuk’s return to the lineup. “I thought he played real well his first game and is just going to get better.”
Datsyuk missed 14 games with a leg injury and watched his team compile a 7-5-2 record without him. But as excited as he was to return to the Wings’ lineup, the speed of the game took Datsyuk some getting used to after missing more than a month of hockey.
“Looks like everybody fast, ice is so small, goalie so big, net so small,” Datsyuk said. “I hope everybody slow down and be careful with my age.”
Darren Helm centered a line with Datsyuk and Daniel Alfredsson on the wings against Florida as the veteran center continues to play his way into shape. But no matter which position he plays, Datsyuk is just happy to be back on the ice.
“It’s first game I played in one month, it’s a little easier to play on the wing,” he said. “But I’m hoping I play tomorrow at center.
“It’s much better to be on the ice, not much nervous, than being off ice and watch game.”
The Red Wings will play their final game before the Olympic break when they face off in Florida against the Tampa Bay Lightning in an Atlantic Division clash.
During Datsyuk's absence, many other Wings have filled Detroit’s scoring void, most notably Gustav Nyquist. The forward has nine goals in as many games, equaling his total from his first 63 NHL games.
But Nyquist knows his success doesn’t come without help from linemates Zetterberg and Justin Abdelkader. In the past four games alone, the trio has combined for six goals.
“It’s fun to play with those guys for sure,” Nyquist said. “We all know what our jobs are on the line. I think (Abdelkader) doesn’t get enough credit for what he does for us. He’s a big body, first guy on the forecheck, wins a lot of loose pucks, always in front of the net screening the goalie. Z obviously does his thing and makes plays. I just try to find an open spot.”
He and Abdelkader have been finding plenty of them lately. Complimenting Nyquist’s consistent offensive production, Abdelkader has recorded three goals and one assist over the past three games.
“I think both of them keeps me a little younger,” Zetterberg said. “It is fun to play with two speedsters like that.
“It is fun to play with them because they do the right things, they’re in the right spots and they put the puck away when they get a chance. It’s been a fun stretch, hopefully we can continue with one more before the break.”
The Wings are 6-2-2 in their past 10 games and have won three of their past four to climb into the last wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference with 64 points. With Tampa Bay only four points ahead of Detroit in the division, the two points that are up for grabs Saturday night between the two clubs are critical.
“When we play the right way and we have all our pieces together we’re a really good team,” defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “What other people think and feel about us doesn’t concern us so much; we know what we have in here, it’s a matter of going out and doing it every night. As of late we’ve been doing a lot of good things.
“We believe in each other, we believe in the structure we have. When we do it right we’re a really good team. I think we’ve shown that at times, it’s a matter of doing it night after night.”
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